Running the Numbers

   First up for today, it’s a few more basic considerations for Shadowrun – in this case, how easy are they to identify and how much they charge:


   So: you’re back from your run and its time to hole up in your safehouse for awhile until the heat dies down. No problem: you’re still safely anonymous.

   Sure you are.

   There are about 3,000,000 people in Seattle. That’s a lot.

   You’re a Troll. There are about 60,000 of them around the city.

   Of course, half of them are kids or more-or-less retired senior citizens.

   You’re a full mage. There are about thirty adult-to-middle-aged trollish full mages in Seattle.

   You’re a Shaman. There are about ten trollish shamans in Seattle.

   You’re a male, have coyote as a totem, have a cyberarm with a built-in gun, you aren’t one of the troll shamans who can be accounted for on the day you made your run, today and you aren’t one of the ones that holds a regular job or has an office.

   Want to bet on how many even one or two of those factors leaves out of ten?

   That’s right: just you.

   Quite a lot of shadowrunners are conspicuous enough that identification really isn’t much of a problem.

   Lets say you’re not one of the conspicuous ones. Just being a human helps a lot with that. Of course, with a shot of your face and a feature-matching program they can find you if they want to take the effort. Wear a mask? Between thermographic shots, regular cameras, and reconstruction programs, that can be sorted out. Wrecked the cameras? Did you find where the backup data is stored? It could be miles away, or in that vault in the third sub-basement. Your decker can’t get to it; it’s record and physical-erase only. Height, weight, sex, approximate age, detectable cyberware, common maneuvers, preferred equipment… a profile can be built up very quickly. Sure you didn’t leave traces of your DNA? Get dusted with a tracer chemical? Get “scented” by an analyzer? Pass through an X-ray, ultrasound, or other scan? There are a hundred instruments, and a thousand pieces of information they can collect about you.

   How many professional freelance agents do you think a city of three million – and 1600 square miles – can support anyway?

   We know that 52% of the population is associated with major corporations. We can expect another 25% to be associated with local businesses (agriculture, utilities, construction, retail, financial services, waste disposal, cab drivers, bodyguards, club employees, etc) or between jobs. About 5% are likely to be associated with the government, the military, and other official functions. About 15% are surviving on cheap corporate handouts, scavenging, and odd jobs.

   That leaves about 3% to make up the “criminal underworld”. That’s really quite a lot – some 45,000 people – even after we take out the 50% for children and the elderly.

   Of course, the petty criminals and criminal support structure – prostitutes, pickpockets, shoplifters and other minor thieves, crooked barmen, con artists, smalltime blackmailers, fences, street messengers and couriers, streetcorner pushers, professional gamblers (and cheats), cheap thugs, tiny gangs, arsonists, e-mail scammers, politicians on the take, crooked cops, kidnappers, and other smalltime members of the criminal fraternity – make up at least 90% of those.

   That leaves 4500 people. Now we take out the large organized groups – the Mafia, Yakuza, Triads, and Seoulpa Rings, the members of the major gangs, the illegal bodyshop operators, the organleggers, and so on. Again, about 90% – and a good prospective on scale. A local Mafia branch might have 30-40 members, and be one of 5-6 similar groups in the city. They’ll employ many times that many youthful couriers, have plenty of local gang contacts, and so on though.

   That leaves 450 freelancers. Are they all runners?

   Of course not. That 450 includes the major fixers and information-brokers, expert smugglers, armorers and weapons-dealers, mercenary muscle, pilots, gang leaders, terrorists, investigators-for-hire, powerful sapient supernatural “monsters”, and many others. People with the kind of equipment, augmentations, skills and training, and magical powers that shadowrunners have simply aren’t too common – especially not running around as freelancers, rather than being gainfully employed at a regular job, with a mercenary company, or with some other regular “special forces” or “special agent” position.

   If you’re generous, there may be 45-60 actual professional “Shadowrunners” in Seattle, along with a few people who take occasional jobs. Most will have their own specialities (an absurdly disproportionate number will be magically active), and their own set of identifying traits and peculiarities. They aren’t nearly as anonymous as most of them like to believe. They’re likely to be relatively well known, at least by alias and the type of work they do, to the major power groups in Seattle.

   So why don’t the corps take them out unless they’ve made it personal for some reason?

   Because more would arise. Because it wouldn’t do anything to the people who hired them. Because they’re bloody dangerous and it’s all too likely to be more trouble than it’s worth. And – most importantly – because they’ll probably need their services themselves next month. Besides, “we know you were in on this, but we’re willing to forget about it” makes a good free sweetener the next time you need someone.

   And that’s why your runner can usually get away with being ridiculously easy to identify – or with being a rocker, ex-sports star, reporter, or something similar. Even if you snatched something vital, as soon as you get it out of your possession, you’re probably off the target list. It’s a little less certain with data, as opposed to physical objects, since with data you might have made a copy – but catching you just might wind up releasing that copy to the world or something anyway.

and Money

   How much should you charge for a run?

   Well, the classic rules for services or rentals involve investment, risk, and how often something is needed. You want to rent a truck for a week? Well, it will probably be another week or so before they can rent it again (and they might have it driven back from wherever you took it). It needs maintenance, it will only last ten years or so, and they have to make a profit on their investment.

   Last time I rented a truck for a week, they required insurance on it, so their risk was pretty small. The total cost was about 1% of what it would cost to buy the truck in the first place. Lets see… Ten years – call it 500 weeks. They can’t expect to rent the truck more than every other week. 250 rentals. Net income: 2.5 times the investment cost spread over 10 years. Comes out to be about 10% interest – or it would without maintenance and such. Say that’s half the cost of the truck, and – of course – comes out of the profits. Now we’re looking at 4-5% interest.

   Now maintenance may be more or less, they may rent it a little more often, and they may charge a bit more than 1% – but there are business expenses, employees to pay, and so on. The general point remains. Low-risk operation, expected to take a week or so, charge 1%.

   If it’s high-risk – say, you can only expect twenty or so rentals / return periods on the average before you lose your investment – you need to be charging a lot more. Closer to 10%

   So what is a runner worth? A quick look through the books reveals that “ordinary” people tend to have about 20 attribute points, and 30 skill points (In second edition it was 20, but the expanded third edition skill list – and the fact that NPC listings usually only show the relevant skills – calls for an upgrade). Skilled professionals – military specialists, hitmen, bounty hunters, and so on – tend to have around 24 attribute points and 40 skill points. They rarely have that much gear, and most people – 98%+ – have no cyberware at all. People with serious cyberware are just as rare as magicians.

   So: The normal person is built on about the “D” priority level pretty much all around and “E” for race, or 24 character points. Skilled professionals are built with a “B” and a “C” priority, or around 42 character points.

   The basic shadowrunner is built with priorities A through E or 60 character points.

   So your basic “Investment” – cyberware, training expenses, magical development, whatever – for a Shadowrunner is about a million nuyen over and above a normal person. They have medical and other expenses as well.


  • If you hire a shadowrunner for a low-risk mission for a week or two – say a bit of investigation or something – you can expect to pay about 1% of that million, or 10,000 NY.
  • If you hire a shadowrunner for a risky mission for a week or two – counting investigation and setup time – you can expect to pay about 10% of that million, or 100,000 NY.
  • If a mission that was supposed to be simple turns dangerous, expect to pay for it one way or another. If you don’t, you won’t be hiring any more competent runners for years to come.

   That does assume that runners only get decent jobs every couple of weeks – but that could just as easily be an overestimate as an underestimate. You have to account for downtime, like having new cyberware installed, hospitalization, studying new magic, and so on.

   We can get to those same general numbers in other ways.

   For example, people who work low-risk skilled positions can expect live in a “Middle” lifestyle. With a family. With the chance to accumulate a few savings, take the occasional vacation, and with some basic employer benefits, like medical and life insurance. Overall effective income? About twice the base cost of a middle lifestyle, or 10,000 NY/Month. Now, if you only work intermittently, you’ll need twice that, or 20,000 NY per actual months work to cover downtime. Ergo; a week or twos work? 10,000 NY.

   If you’re expected to cover your own risks in a high-risk job, you’ll need quite a lot – or we could just figure from the fact that highly-skilled people in high-risk jobs can expect to live a high lifestyle with the occasional dip into “luxury”. That’ll take about 400,000 NY/Year (three months of a luxury lifestyle at 100,000 NY/month and nine months of a high lifestyle at 10,000 NY/month), plus family (+40%) and some savings and covering your own benefits (+10%, since benefits are a much smaller chunk at this level) – taking us up to 600,000 NY per year or so. Double that for intermittent employment, divide by twelve months, and it comes out to be about 100,000 NY per month – and you can’t expect to find freelance, high-risk, high-pay jobs more than once a month or so. Ergo: 100,000 NY for a week or two’s high-risk work.

   Now, we can tweak some of those numbers up or down a bit – but the basic lifestyle and family-support costs are set by the game system. You really can’t get away from the basic conclusion: if you want competent people for high-risk, high-skill work, you’re going to have to pay them pretty well or go in for blackmail – and blackmailing Shadowrunners to get free services isn’t very bright. Do you want your next “freebie” to involve you, your family, your employer, and either death or an assortment of fates worse than death? Somehow I didn’t think you did.

4 Responses

  1. Being anonymous is a lot easier if you take a few precautions, however. The big one is simply not to stand out in a crowd. It doesn’t matter much if they know “someone did something” when they can’t match it to anybody at all. On the mission-side, hard masks, or padded ones, will nicely disrupt almost any sensors.

  2. I wouldn’t count on it too much. The penetration-imaging systems are pretty good even today. It will help a lot if you’re relatively average and do use a hard mask or something. Quite possibly not enough, but some…

  3. Supposedly systems can do that. They’ve never really gotten it to work, however. And there’s always cheap magic.

  4. Well, judging from some searches on terahertz waves, penetrating radar systems, and related imaging technologies, a fair number are already in use for various purposes. Given another forty years of development, and vastly improved expert-system data processing, it will probably be pretty hard to be anonymous.

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